Monday, October 2, 2023

Appealing characters help make ‘Silver Alert’ a wonderful, quick-read novel



You can have whatever you want.

So g'wan: buy a new car – heck, buy three of them. Have a vacation home on both coasts and two overseas. Get a new wardrobe for every day of the week, rings for your fingers and toes, go ahead, go wild. You can have whatever you want – except, in the new book "Silver Alert" by Lee Smith, you can't have your life back.

When Herb Atlas opened the door of his Key West villa, he couldn't believe his eyes. His step-daughter had hiredateenager – a kid, actually – to take care of his wife, Susan.

She'd been a real looker not so long ago, his Susan was. Charming and funny, everybody loved her. Then early-onset Alzheimer's made Susan an unrecognizable, wild-haired woman that Herb barely knew.

But here this kid who said her name was Renee was doing Susan's nails and she had Susan calm, quiet, and not rat-a-tat-tatting. That hadn't happened in a long time. Herb liked this girl right off; when she dropped her wallet and he saw an ID card with another name on it, he didn't even care that she was probably lying.

He tipped her a couple of $100 bills and he couldn't wait to hire her again.

Two hundred bucks!  Dee Dee practically skipped away from Mr. Atlas that afternoon, thinking about the things she could buy. She decided not to go back to the pink trailer just yet; she didn't want to run into Tony because she was done with that life. Dee Dee liked the new work she'd been chosen to do, and she liked Susan, too.

Herb should've known an intervention when he saw one; even his nephew, Ricky, was there. His extended family didn't get together for the fun of it, after all. Then again, an 83-year-old man doesn't get scary-sick every day, either, nor does he willingly give up everything he knows and has worked hard for, before taking one last grasp at life...

Let's be honest: the old elderly-person-and-caregiver-flee-in-a-classic-car plot is suddenly everywhere, overused, almost overdone. Set it aside, though, if you can, and "Silver Alert" is a wonderful little novel.

What helps is that author Lee Smith's two main characters are very appealing. Herb is a foul-mouthed, once-proud man who hates the fact that he's aged, and he rails against it. Dee Dee is an under-educated backwoods girl who longs to fulfill her own promise and overcome her awful past. Their separate, but entwining, stories are the kinds you can't wait to return to while you're spending time with the rest who make this novel truly fun: among others, there's an insufferably uppity doctor and his wife, a no-nonsense lesbian couple, a career-woman daughter, an absent son, poor Susan, and Ricky, a cool-headed voice of reason who'll make readers wish they knew someone like him.

If you're up for a fast read with a great story-line and somewhat of a surprise ending, ignore the trope and reach for "Silver Alert." You can get it whenever you want.

"Silver Alert: A Novel" by Lee Smith

c.2023, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. $27.00. 224 pages.


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